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Ukraine War: Increasing Geopolitical Complexities for India

As the War in Ukraine enters the two hundred and twenty sixth day, geopolitical complexities are increasing for India continuing to balance between the [unstated] power blocks – United States and Europe versus Russia with albeit a mixed support from China. Maintaining operational readiness in the wake of decline of Russian support to the armed forces is also expected to assume criticality, here is a review-

Geopolitical Divisions and India

The geopolitical divisions broadly speaking the United States and Russia are clear not only in terms of the ongoing war in the European continent but also in other spheres as escalation in East Asia, where the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or North Korea has undertaken a spree of missile firing with at least one over Japan indicating an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) that could possibly target United States territory in the Pacific.

Russia and China declined to support a United States resolution in the UN Security Council condemning the North and proposing to impose additional sanctions

At the UN Human Rights Council the division was sharp on resolutions moved against Sri Lanka and China over rights violations in Xinjiang – India abstained even though it could well have voted otherwise.

Clearly the geopolitical convolutions emanating from the war in Ukraine is impacting Indian decisions in other spheres as well.

Pragmatism, Partners and Principles

Pragmatism over cutting back on energy costs by buying cheaper Russian oil with discounts is likely to ride over partners and principles – an eternal dilemma for diplomacy.

How India would like to position itself in the emerging global order which appears to be shaping as a West versus the Rest remains to be seen?

As a liberal, secular democracy though India’s credentials as a tolerant and pluralist state is being increasingly questioned by some, New Delhi is more aligned to the United States and Europe.

Yet the legacy of geo-politics places it in the Russian corner given the five decades old strategic partnership with the Soviet Union/Russia which had commenced in the early 1970’s and continues to this day.

As opposed to this India United States bonhomie goes back to just decades and much traction has been gained in the strategic partnership which today is seen as the lynchpin in the Indo Pacific to contest or contain a rising People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Yet this cannot be perceived as one against Russia even though many of actions taken by Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian armed forces have been stringently opposed by India, naming Moscow is not in the diplomatic repertoire as the United States or the West would like New Delhi to do.

India’s Apprehensions over War in Ukraine

To summarise India’s apprehensions against the Russian [without naming Moscow as such] war or Special Military Operations in Ukraine expressed openly are :-

  • Humanitarian distress – casualties and refugees

  • Violation of territorial sovereignty

  • Violation of UN Charter by use of force for settlement of disputes between nations.

  • Supplementary concerns which have now emerged as primary ones of energy, economy, and food security of the developing World

  • Concerns over the nuclear factor including the Zaporizhian nuclear power plant.

Areas India is Not Vocal

Areas where India has not been vocal are:-

  • Naming Russia as the aggressor.

  • Naming Russia for mass human distress caused.

  • Annexation of the areas secured by Russia

War Options – Increasing Complexities for India

While thus far India’s responses have been accepted by the United States and the West, the war in Ukraine is entering a challenging phase with increasing intricacies that may pose India greater dilemmas in the near future. Some of these are summarised as given below:-

  • An extended war in Europe which may go beyond Ukraine to include NATO especially in case it moves from the conventional to the nuclear dimension.

  • Expansion of the war with enhanced mobilisation of forces by Russia, Ukraine’s determination to pursue the objective of reclaiming territorial sovereignty by force including over Crimea.

  • Greater support to the war effort by the United States and the West which will sustain Ukraine in the political objectives and drag the war

  • Demand by the US and the West to join the strategic alliance vis a vis Russia.

  • Impact of sanctions on India’s war readiness with particular reference to sustaining the large weapons corpus from Russia.

Beyond Hedging – Managing Operational Readiness

An extension of the war in Ukraine thus would imply that India may not be able to hedge as hitherto fore claiming to be the median player with an ability to negotiate with both sides on the famous premise put forth by Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi to the Russia President Vladimir Putin during the meeting on the side lines of the Shanghai Cooperation Summit in the middle of September that, this is not an era of wars.

The ,”not an era of war,” premise was also proposed to the Ukrainian President by Mr Modi on October 05th on the occasion of Dussehra one of the most auspicious days in the Indian calendar.

The Russian as well as the Ukrainian leaders rebuffed Mr Modi, thus extension of the war is inevitable.

How India plays the diplomatic cards remains to be seen, importantly New Delhi must ensure operational readiness of the armed forces to face a challenge across the Northern borders from China by ensuring critical war fighting assets are in top shape despite the obvious slack that is expected to come about due to fall in supplies from Russia.


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